St Patrick’s Day Parade BIRMINGHAM
Adam Shaw and Gerry Molumby were in Birmingham for the UK’s biggest Saint Patrick’s Day Parade last week-end.
The red, white and blue of the Union Jack emblazoned on souvenirs celebrating Britain standing alongside the green, white and orange of the Irish tricolour meant one could easily have been in Glasgow. Incidentally, Scotland’s largest city was itself abuzz that day as its two biggest football clubs, Celtic and Rangers, locked horns in the 406th Old Firm derby.
There would be a heavy police presence there too but they were unlikely to be acting as unofficial cheerleaders encouraging the crowds to shout louder, just as those in Birmingham would not be tasked with separating charged up fans baying for blood. Still, Celtic’s famous green and white colours were everywhere.
A host of shirts, scarves and hats showed that its affiliation with the Irish community in Britain extends to this part of the West Midlands. But while the Old Firm has often been tainted by sectarian violence and songs about the Famine and the IRA, there would be none of that here. These supporters were only concerned with one thing – having a party on Birmingham’s very own ‘friendliest day of the year’.
Crowds gathered along Digbeth High Street long before the parade officially got underway. People spilled out of the city’s Irish Centre and local pubs, pints of Guinness in-hand and smiles on their faces.
One woman waxed lyrical to her children about the black pudding on offer at the nearby food stalls as dozens off street-sellers attempted to flog various Irish knick-knacks. Pins, flags and wigs could be bought for £5, while whistles and horns were going for £2 each, showing that it was cheaper to shout about your Irish pride rather than simply show it.
Noise was a common, though not unwanted, feature throughout. Cries of “face-painting, free face-painting” were joined by a man on the clarinet, children laughing and the seemingly endless playing of Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl.+18
Then, of course, there were the pipe, fife and drum bands. Clad in tartan and various forms of impressive headgear, they led the march and gave a welcome break to Ed’s omnipresent, albeit lovely, voice.
Another lady, Nora, originally from Co. Limerick, expressed great pride in the efforts of her adopted home.
“Look at the crowds, it’s like the whole of Birmingham’s come out to see it,” she said. “I know the one in New York is bigger but it’s almost too much – this one’s all about the community.
“Now we just have to hope the weather holds or we’ll all be dashing into the pubs.”
Not only did the weather hold, but it was glorious. As if on cue, the sun came out just as the four flagbearers representing Ireland’s provinces took their first steps. It stayed for the samba band, the troops of Irish dancers and the first few classic cars. Clouds came and went as tractors, GAA clubs and religious groups made their way along the route.
Birmingham’s thriving multiculturalism was evident through a performance by a Chinese dragon and a group of Afro-Caribbean dancers.
A young Irish dancer incorporated modern moves into his routine, ‘dabbing’ left, right and centre. Older onlookers cooed over kids walking in their first parade, hurling coaches balanced sliotars for metres uninterrupted and lorry drivers gleefully honked their horns in an arbitrary manner.
An unexpected highlight came in the form of a collection of scooters, which stopped and then roared up the road to the delight of the crowd. But the hero of the day was Noel Mulvey, a long-standing member of the expat community throughout the region and a proud supporter of the parade.
Pictures of the Leitrim man adorned the sides of floats while buses were lit up with the years of his life. It was clear that he meant a great deal to the Irish community here. The procession made its way back down the street as people proudly cheered on their respective counties – “Come on Cavan”, “Go on Tipperary”, “Mayo, Mayo, Mayo”.
The hulking mechanical road sweepers provided a surreal end to proceedings, mopping up the majority of confetti and glitter, which had been left behind with the odd plastic flag standing firm. Nora then explained how while the celebration is obviously Irish, people from all around and from all backgrounds love to get involved.
“People from Birmingham, whether they’re Irish or not, they all like to come out for the parade, it’s wonderful to see,” she said.
Indeed, official figures stood at 85,000 for the day. Many of these people made their way from behind the barriers and into the pubs, clubs and entertainment venues looking to carry on the party.
Queues four-deep made up of thirsty guests desperate for a pint soon formed while others gobbled down foot-long sausages and Kimberley biscuits. Local talent and established Irish musicians provided an appropriate soundtrack as Birmingham celebrated all that is great about its Irish links long into the evening. Peter Connolly, of the St Patrick’s Day Parade Board, said the day was a “huge success”.
“Everyone had a great day, the ‘St Pat’s Rocks’ festival went very well and next time around we can hope to make it even bigger and better,” he said.
“We learned plenty of stuff in terms of how we can improve but, on the whole, it was a huge success.
“None of this could have been achieved without our headline sponsors, local Irish company Kiely Bros. and I’m sure everyone wants to thank them for their great support.”
As for Celtic, a late Rangers goal prevented them from securing a fourth straight win over their great rivals.
But their fans won’t lose too much sleep over such a fact – they are cantering to yet another Scottish title and, when they inevitably wrap it up, there will be some party in the East End of Glasgow and beyond.
This will include the contingent in Birmingham, though it’s unlikely that the celebrations will surpass the outpouring of joy they experienced last weekend.